Are Theravada monasteries in the West sustainable without Asians?

Here’s a question to those familiar with the organization of monasteries: I know some Theravada monasteries sustained in the West, but I also see many Asians (Thai, Sinhalese, Vietnamese…) contributing to that substantially. And I wonder: has Theravada monasticism really arrived in the West in terms of shelter and livelihood? Or is that part practically possible only due to the consistent contribution of Asian expats?

(To avoid misunderstandings: Asians are part of the West of course, I just wonder if the non-cultural-background Buddhists in the West would be enough to sustain monasteries)


I certainly don’t have enough of a basis to speak to the question in any especially grounded way, but as a general, more or less historically oriented, point, I think it’s way too early to say. While I think it’s a good question to ask now in terms of something to consider, from the point of view of getting a fair answer, I think we’d have to revisit the Q in about 50 or so years.

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Thanks, I meant it as a snapshot rather, not a categorical assessment of the future. I was just wondering how the situation is today.

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My experience as member of two different Sangha (thai and west), is that the western monks would starve to death if only westerners were taking care of the monasteries.
… But still there is moving forward in what seems to me in the same direction, it’s just different and has it’s ups and downs wherever one looks with an open mind.

Sometimes I hear other westerners uttering critical words and having views I cant say i agree on, but none of these have i met in any thai sangha locally, yet …

There is always more people around both places when some big shot “fill in name” visit or stays around for a while, but I am more impressed of those rainy day Buddhists that wakes up early in the morning, sometimes about the same time as the monk or nun does, and does their best to prepare the optimal out of what they can afford or have at hand, and hands over this days medicine directly to the homeless.
i’ve had many a nice meditations just observing these small acts of kindness, not words or lofty thoughts, just a body moving in a wholesome direction:anjal:

And then adding that i’m so lucky to be having these experiences from the crude start of both places.

So, i would say it’s unsure, but personally i find the graciousness of simple thais a source of gladness, and to me is that one of a few important abilities of the mind that makes this path-walking lighter.


Of course! :slight_smile: Despite very much looking like it, it wasn’t exactly a point about the future, as poking into what exactly is ‘arrived’.

Anyway, as I say yours is a good Q, and from my very limited experience, Asian expats are a crucial part of the mix without whom things wouldn’t appear to be too viable in the instances I can refer to.

There is quite a diversity I’m sure. And mostly I’d be interested in examples where a monastery does seem to be sustainable by non-Asians. And as @awarewolf points out, this depends on daily support and dana. I know a small monastery where the land and building were donated by a westener. An abbot from another monastery (I hope I remember correctly) told me that before the decision to open a branch the local expat Thai community had to make a formal request and basically guarantee that they would take care of it.

So I can imagine that donating money, property etc. might work well with westeners but am interested in the food-, daily provisions-aspect.


That is the same procedure I experienced here, except donated land, @Gabriel

Was visiting Lokuttara Vihara yesterday, - and the day before was celebrating MP, with embassy and so on, a lot of visitors.

As usual did my wife make more food than “needed”, and like mentioned in my first post, just a handful of Buddhists left, but enough monks for a crowd … :wink:

all plates and boxes brought got emptied :anjal:


At Bodhinyana, there are a Thai day (= a day where Thai laypeople come to offer food), a Sri Lankan day, a Vietnamese breakfast, etc. From what I have seen for nearly 10 years visiting the monastery, only a handful of westerners provide daily food to the monks at Bodhinyana.



Here’s where me and wife went on Saturday - quite unprepared/planned, thais connected through fb, made some food, and went along into some fun.


Haha, how indecent… and fun :wink:
It’s always nice to see how some cultures are very comfortable around their religious community centers. Whereas for many westeners to be around a monastery or temple is the time “to be holy” suddenly. Both is probably not what the Buddha had in mind…

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There you go!
Thais are generous in all sense, even with their Kilesas, which they in my opinion are not at all paranoid with, but when one meets a suffering western Buddhist, it all ends in tears … :wink:

generally speaking sure :slight_smile:

I think it possibly depends on what part of their countries they are in. A monastery in Silicon Valley or greater NYC can probably get by quite handsomely on the support provided by just a handful of very wealthy donors.

It is my understanding (and correct me if I’m wrong) that in primarily Buddhist countries the children are raised from a young age giving dana and providing daily needs.

In some places in the west, this hasn’t become a part of raising children, yet. As more and more generations of westerners begin to be raised in Buddhist families, hopefully, the support of monasteries will grow and grow. :heart:


I recall Ajahn Pasanno mentioning something along the lines that Abhayagiri would not be what it is without the support of the Thai people (but please don’t quote me on that as my memory is what it is and I would not wish to misrepresent him). And having seen with my own eyes how much support they offer to the monastery, this appears true.


I think it’s an interesting phenomenon: Meditation centers, e.g. Karma Kagyu, or zen, do fine in the West - I don’t think that they depend much on Tibetan, or Japanese/Korean support. Even Theravada could do okay if it was just about money (big donations, or from the distance).

But the ‘proper’ monastic tradition with its emphasis on pindapada and the actual giving of food and requisites needs consistent = daily giving which seems to require Asians who know (and appreciate) this daily dependence on laity.

I know some German monks who actually go on pindapada, each day of the week to another city in the surrounding. It’s still Thai support in the majority, but some locals got used to them and from conversations over the years they understand a bit more, and when the monks return and we prepared the food we could see by the inside of the bowl that some Germans gave food too.

Maybe it’s getting there, or maybe it’s too alien after all. But for now I’m also very grateful that local Asians take care of the monastics so well.


Abhayagiri seems to be an excellent example of a mixed community of lay supporters. About evenly split between the Thai community and non-Thai.


Recently a choice was made to visit the Wat Buddha Dhamma monastery, located in remote bush about 2 hours drive from Sydney. The hardest part about providing dana to the monastery is the 15 km goat track one most travel to get there. Although a regular car could possibly make the journey without rattling apart a four-wheel drive is definitely the preferred vehicle of choice. Obviously this monastery has a large kitchen with well stacked fridges and pantries and a live-in caretaker other wise the monks would starve.


Which is exactly why I think it’s too early to really say - this is a generational thing and we haven’t been through enough generation cycles to know how willing so called ‘Westerns’ are to adopt this practice.

I think it’s really important to note that right now, in many places it maybe doesn’t seem that ‘Westerners’ have enough awareness or inclination for to offer daily support to monastics in ‘the West’ to sustain them. But the apprehension I was attempting to speak to above, is that we should be cautious of taking the wrong message from this and concluding that it just isn’t in ‘the Western mentality’ to offer support like this. Who know’s; maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, either way it’s just way too premature to say.

aconlan, put the key (to my mind) point very well!


Some of the giving in Buddhism is accompanied by ritualized behavior, and the observance of certain rules and restrictions. If people don’t know those rituals and rules, the experience for both participants is likely to be awkward and embarrassing.

Besides parents raising their children in certain ways, my understanding is that in Asian Buddhist countries, the kids will probably attend some kind of “Sunday school” classes for years, where all the chants, rituals and etiquette involved in customary Buddhist lay practice are taught and become second nature, and also the basic theory or motive behind the giving is developed and explained, along with an explanation of what lay people need to know about the monks’ rules, and some edifying stories of famous givers and lay supporters. For the western convert, all of this cultural background literacy is missing.

The monks don’t want to talk about this stuff, because it is not really their role . They are supposed to take what is given, and not tell people how to do the giving. But if there is no formal program of lay education, everything has to be picked up haphazardly and gradually.

If the western convert has childhood experience with another religion, the customs around giving could be very different. In my Catholic upbringing, we were taught to put money inside a sealed envelope, and discreetly place the envelop on the basket or plate so that nobody can see the amount. The idea of crawling on one’s knees in front of everybody with a tray full of vegetables, a giant bag of rice or a case of juice drinks is a new experience!


So on-line donations might be a way forward, connected to an enterprising catering company! :grin:. But seriously I would miss the social elements as well as the human contact. Lots of temples do their own cooking, if they don’t have Dana.

With metta